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Apostles, no Christian history, claiming to be write ten by an apostle or apostolical men, is quoted within three hundred years after the birth of Christ, by any writer now extant, or known; or, if
quoted, is not quoted with marks of censure and rejection.
I have not advanced this assertion without in. quiry ; and I doubt not, but that the passage cited by Mr. Jones and Dr. Lardner, under the several titles which the apocryphal books bear; or a reference to the places where they are mentioned as collected in a very accurate table, published in the year 1773, by the Rev. J. Atkinson, will make out i he truth of the proposition to the satisfaction of of every fair and competent judgment. If there be any book which may seem to form an exception to the observation, it is a Hebrew Gospel, which was circulated under the various titles of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, of the Ebionites, sometimes called of the Twelve, by some ascribed to Saint Matthew. This Gospel is once, and only once, cited by Clemens Alexandrinus, who lived, the reader will remember, in the latter part of the second century, and which same Clement quotes one or other of our four Gospels in almost every page of his work. It is twice mentioned by Origen, A. D. 230; and both times with marks of diminution and discredit. And this is the ground upon which the exception stands. But what is still more material to observe is, that this Gospel, in the main, agreed with our present Gospel of Saint Matthew **
Now if, with this account of the apocryphal Gospels, we compare what we have read concerning ihe canonical Scriptures in the preceding sections ; or even recollect that general but well founded as. sertion of Dr. Lardner, “ That in the remaining works of Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, who all lived in the first two centuries, there are more and larger quotations of the small
* In applying to this Gospel, what Jerome in the latter end of the fourth century has mentioned of a Hebrew Gospel, I think it probable that we sometimes confound it with a Hebrew copy of Saint Matthew's Gospel, whether an original er version, thách was then extant.
volume of the New Testament, than of all the works of Cicero, by writers of all characters, for several ages; ;'* and if to this we add, that, notwithstanding the loss of many works of the primitive times of Christianity, we have, within the above mentioned period, the remains of Christian writers, who lived in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, the part of Africa that used the Latin tongue, in Crete, Greece, Italy, and Gaul, in all which remains, references are found to our evangelists; ! apprehend, that we shall perceive a clear and broad line of division between those writings, and all others pretending to a similar authority,
II. But beside certain histories which assumed the names of apostles, and which were forgeries properly so called; there were some other Christian writings, in the whole or in part of an histori. cal nature, which, though not forgeries, are denominated apocryphal, as being of uncertain or of no authority.
of this second class of writings, I have found only two which are noticed by any author of the first three centuries, without express terms of con: demnation ; and these are, the one, a book entitled the Preaching of Peter, quoted repeatedly by Clemens Alexandrinus, A. D. 196; the other, a book entitled the Revelation of Peter, upon which the above mentioned Clemens Alexandrinus is said, by Eusebius, to have written notes; and which is twice cited in a work still extant, ascribed to the same author.
I conceive, therefore, that the proposition we have before advanced, even after it hath been subjected to every exception, of every kind, that can be alleged, separates, by a wide interval, our historical Scriptures from all other writings which pro. fess to give an account of the same subject.
We may be permitted however to add,
1. That there is no evidence that any spurious or apocryphal books whatever existed in the first cen. tury of the Christian era, in which century all our historical books are proved to have been extant...
There are no quotations of any such books in the apostolical fathers, by whom I mean Barnabas, Cle ment of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, whose writings reach from about the year of our Lord 70, to the year 108; (and some of whom have quoted each and every one of our historical Scriptures :) I say this,” adds Dr Lardner, “because I think it has been proved."*
* Lardner, Cred, vol. xii, p. 33.
2. These apocryphal writings were not read in the churches of Christians;
3. Were not admitted into their volume;
6. Were not alleged by different parties as of authority in their controversies.
7. Were not the subjects, amongst them, of commentaries, versions, collations, expositions.
Finally ; beside the silence of three centuries, or evidence, within that time, of their rejection, they were, with a consent nearly universal, reprobated by Christian writers of succeeding ages.
Although it be made out by these observations, that the books in question never obtained any degree of credit and notoriety which can place them in competitior vith our Scriptures; yet it appears, from the writings of the fourth century, that many such existed in that century, and in the century preceding it. It may be difficult at this distance of time to account for their origin. Perhaps the most probable explication is, that they were in general composed with a design of making a profit by the sale Whatever treated of the subject would find purchasers. It was an advantage taken of the pious curiosity of unlearned Christians. With a view to the same purpose, they were many of them adapted to the particular opinions of particular sects, which would naturally promote their circulation amongst the favourers of those opinions. After all, they were probably much more obscure than we imagine. Except the Gospel according to the Hebrews, there is none of which we hear more than the Gospel of the Egyptians; yet there is good reason to believe that Člement, a presbyter of Alexandria in Egypt, A. D. 184, and a man of al.
* Lardper, Cred. vol. xii, P. 153.
most universal reading, had never seen it,* A
Gospel according to Peter, was another of the most 7!!
ancient books of this kind; yet Serapion, bishop of Antioch, A. D. 200, had not read it, when he heard of such a book being in the hands of the Christians
of Rhossus in Cilicia ; and speaks of obtaining a in sight of this Gospel from some sectaries who used
it. Even of the Gospel of the Hebrews, which confessedly stands at the head of the catalogue, Jerome, at the end of the fourth century, was glad to procure a copy by the favour of the Nazarenes of Berea. Nothing of this sort ever happened, or could have happened, concerning our Gospels.
One thing is observable of all the apocryphal Christian writings, viz. that they proceed upon the game fundamental history of Christ and his apos. tles, as that which is disclosed in our Scriptures. The mission of Christ, his power of working miracles, his communication of that power to the apostles, his passion, death, and resurrection, are assumed or asserted by every one of them. The pames under which some of them came forth, are the names of men of eminence in or. histories.What these books give, are not contradictions, but unauthorized additions. The principal facts are supposed, the principal agents the same; which shows, that these points were too much fixed to be altered or disputed.
If there be any book of this description, which appears to have imposed upon some considerable number of learned' Christians, it is the Sibylline oracles; but, when we reflect upon the circumstances which facilitated that imposture, we shall cease to wonder either at the attempt or its success. It was at that time universally understood, that such a prophetic writingexisted. Its contents were kept secret. This situation afforded to some one a hint, as well as an opportunity to give out a writing under this name, favourable to the already established persuasion of Christians, and which writing, by the aid and recommendation of these circumstances, would in some degree, it is proba. ble, be received. Of the ancient forgery we know
Jones, vol. i. ). 243. Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 557.
but little : what is now produced, could not, in my opinion, have imposed upon any one. It is nothing else than the Gospel history, woven into verse ; perhaps was at first rather a fiction than a forgery; an exercise of ingenuity, more than an attempt to deceive.
Recapitulation. The reader will now be pleased to recollect, that the two points which form the subject of our present discussion, are, first, that the Founder of Christianity, his associates, and immediate follow. ers, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings; secondly, that they did so, in attestation of the miraculous history recorded in our Scriptures, and solely in consequence of their belief of the truth of that history.
The argument, by which these two propositions have been maintained by us, stands thus :
No historical fact, I apprehend, is more certain, than that the original propagators of Christianity voluntarily subjected themselves to lives of fatigue, danger, and suffering, in the prosecution of their undertaking. The nature of the undertaking; the character of the persons employed in it; the
oppo sition of their tenets to the fixed opinions and ex pectations of the country in which they first ad. vanced them; their undissembled condemnation of the religion of all other countries ; their total want of power, authority, or force; render it in the high. est degree probable that this must have been the case. The probability is increased, by what wie know of the fate of the Founder of the institution, who was put to death for his attempt; and by what we also know of the cruel treatment of the converts to the institution, within thirty years after its commencement; both which points are attested by hea. then writers, and, being once admitted, leave it very incredible that the primitive emissaries of the religion, who exercised their ministry, first, amongst the people who had destroyed their Mas